COLUMBIA, S.C. – Wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards are back in practice and “progressing really, really well” in the eyes of South Carolina wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon.
The next step is continuing to keep the pair coming along and staying healthy as they return from minor hamstring injuries.
“I think you’ve gotta be very, very careful with hamstrings,” McClendon said. “It’s one of those things where Deebo last year, he was out all year with a hamstring. Just because if you’re not managing it the right way then you put them out there too fast. That’s when you get the big boy and you’re out two, three months.”
Samuel and Edwards got back into practice Thursday and are expected to fully participate in Saturday’s first fall scrimmage, just under the watchful eye of the Gamecocks coaches.
The duo figures to be key in South Carolina’s passing attack this season, especially Samuel, the top returning receiver that is expected to be the top target this fall. McClendon, asked what kind of receiver Samuel can be as a sophomore, ran through the variety of things he brings to the table.
“Deebo has a wide skill set,” he said. “He’s a guy that’s hard to guard in the sense of he plays with a lot of strength. Very quick. Good hands. He can make those traffic catches, which is essential in this league, especially with good DBs. Also tracks the ball very well. And does a good job after he has the ball in his hands.
“I think he’s unique in that sense just because he can do a lot of things across the board. To kinda pinpoint him down into who is he? He’s Deebo.”
Edwards enrolled early after graduating from Conway, S.C.
How many receivers will play?
McClendon knows how many receivers he hopes to have ready to play at his disposal this season, as the Gamecocks coach said he ideally will have seven or eight.
“You want to have enough where you are keeping people fresh and constantly allowing yourself to put pressure on defenses by playing fast,” he said.
To reach those numbers, it is possible the four-man group of freshmen receivers will be dipped into beyond Edwards. Right now, all are being prepared as if they will play, according to McClendon.
“Right now, I’m getting them all ready to play,” he said. “If you ask me who won’t, I would say nobody. Just working hard and getting all those guys kinda caught up and ready to play. We will make a final decision closer to game time.”
Randrecous Davis, Korey Banks and Chavis Dawkins are the other three freshmen wide receivers. Dawkins received early reps in team periods of Thursday’s practice.
Also repping early in that period was redshirt freshman Javon Charleston, and McClendon sounded pleased with his progress and what he has seen from Dawkins in their quest to be involved in the playing rotation.
“If everything keeps progressing, I think those two have a good chance,” he said.
Not so fast on Williams
Junior running back David Williams got early reps in Thursday’s practice, and coach Will Muschamp said “he’s doing fine” prior to cautioning not to put too much stock into the second-team reps he received.
“I wouldn’t read a lot into where guys are repping right now,” he said. “I know you guys are seeing only a limited number of practices, but A.J. (Turner) is repping with the third team, at times, depending on the rotation. It’s about reps and it’s about getting guys in. We haven’t released a depth chart for the simple reason of right now, it doesn’t really matter.
“It’s just about turns and we are rolling a bunch of guys in and getting guys turns and reps, that’s what we’re worried about.”
Turner has been the back receiving the most praise through camp, with Muschamp saying Thursday the redshirt freshman has “distanced himself” from the rest of the running backs.
Pollard at tight end
Another true freshman that came in as a receiver, Kiel Pollard has been working as a tight end in fall camp.
The 6-foot, 230-pound freshman has what McClendon described as a “unique skill set.”
“I think he’s at a position where we can utilize that skill set the best. Did it surprise me that he would be moved into that position? No, it didn’t.”
Smith coming along
Jamari Smith has finally settled into one position, locking in on playing wide receiver this fall. The early feedback is that he has been catching on nicely, as McClendon praised his hard work.
“He’s done extremely well, worked extremely hard and he’s in great shape,” McClendon said. “He takes pride in getting the small details down. Any time you have those guys, they tend to work themselves into being pretty good.”
The 5-10, 210-pound Smith previously played defensive back and running back.
Mike Wilson covers South Carolina athletics for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on the Gamecocks.